When is the right time to remove last fall’s leaves and plant remains?


I left the leaves and remains of plants last fall to help overwinter the pollinators. I’m wondering when is the right time to remove them now?


Marjorie Peronto, Extension Educator

Great question.  I am making the same decision in my own gardens! The longer you can leave the plant materials in place, the more likely you are to allow overwintering insects to emerge on their own time. Their emergence is directly linked to growing degree days. Here is a MSU Extension article, Understanding growing degree-days. If you can tolerate the untidiness, while your perennials are still dormant, leave them alone. When you start seeing evidence of growth emerging from the crowns, it’s time to gently remove the plant debris without damaging the tender new growth at the base of the plants. You can pile the plant debris off to the side of the garden for a while before adding it to the compost pile, to allow remaining insects to emerge as the weather warms a little more.